Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
We all do our best to fit in fibrous and fermented foods, but there’s much more to gut health than what we put on our plates. Robyn Youkilis, a certified wellness expert, TV personality, and author of Go With Your Gut: The Insider’s Guide to Banishing the Bloat with 75 Digestion-Friendly Recipes, shares Ayurvedic tips to transform the way you cook, eat, and digest.
1. Keep your digestive fire burning.
According to Ayurveda, agni is the digestive fire that “cooks” your food. Nothing is transformed without this fire. The goal is to keep your agni burning steadily throughout the day. “Most often, my clients complain of sluggish or dull digestion, a feeling of being overloaded and heavy,” Youkilis says. “A dull fire creates debris, or ama (undigested food), which clogs your channels and is a precursor to disease because it blocks the flow of prana (life force).”
Some signs that you have too much ama stuck in your body include headaches, body odor, and color on the tongue. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, Youkilis recommends drinking hot water and ginger tea throughout the day to get things moving and clear out excess ama. Eat a little less, choose lighter foods, and move your body. She also suggests taking a digestive enzyme, a protein that helps the chemical breakdown of food. Her favorite is from Enzymedica.
2. Eat mindfully on a regular schedule.
Sticking to a regular eating schedule and eating in a relaxed environment where you can focus on your food primes your body for proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Youkilis eats with her Buddha, which reminds her to be peaceful, slow down, and enjoy each bite.
Mindful eating allows you to bring your yoga practice to your plate. “You wouldn’t do Chair Pose with your iPhone attached to your ear, right? If you are, you should probably stop that,” she says. “As in yoga, the goal is to be present during meals and treat this time as sacred.”
3. Allow yourself time between meals.
It takes your body 3–4 hours to properly digest food, so grazing throughout the day tends to bog down your system. “Think of a pot of cooked rice,” Youkilis says. “You can’t add more rice after it’s done. It won’t cook. It’s the same way with your food.” She suggests eating three meals a day with at least three hours in between. This allows your food to be digested efficiently and completely, giving you more energy to support your yoga practice.
4. Aim to incorporate all six tastes into your day.
In Ayurveda, the sense of taste is like a roadmap to proper nutrition, and incorporating all six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy), bitter, and astringent — into your meals is crucial. “Bitter is the most important missing taste, so try to add more of these foods into your diet,” Youkilis says. Dandelion greens, leafy greens, aloe, and black tea are all great options. “As Paul Pitchford, author of the holistic bible Healing With Whole Foods, says, ‘Bitter foods make for a sweet life.’”
5. Be generous with herbs and spices.
Use plenty of spices and herbs when cooking, as they stimulate digestion. “Ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne are my favorites for revving up your digestive fire, keeping that agni burning strong,” Youkilis says. “And as a bonus, they help boost your immune system!” Try a curry recipe to incorporate more spices into your diet.
About Robyn Youkilis
Robyn Youkilis, AADP is a Certified Wellness Expert, TV personality, and author that The Today Show, People Magazine, Redbook and thousands of women turn to when they look in the mirror and ask, “What do I do? I can’t deal with another diet.” Through her health coaching practice, Robyn helps her clients break free of the craziness of dieting and connect to their inner “sparkle”—their truest and best selves—through no-nonsense action steps. She’s been featured by The Cooking Channel, The Wall Street Journal, Health, Men’s Fitness, Fitness, The Huffington Post, CBS News, NYLON and more. Robyn lives in New York City and Los Angeles, but her true home is in the kitchen, whipping up easy, healthy, and delicious eats. Robyn’s first book, Go with Your Gut: The Insider’s Guide to Banishing the Bloat with 75 Digestion-Friendly Recipes published by Kyle Books is now available everywhere books are sold.